Up to 70 percent of missionary personnel fled Haiti during the 32nd coup in the destitute country's 200-year history, says Terry Snow, director of Youth With a Mission/Haiti.
Raphael Leonel, pastor of the Christian Church of Delmas, doesn't blame them—he sent three of his own children to the United States during the turmoil.
"You are in your bed and you know there is not a police force to secure your house and you do not know who to call if you are in a situation," he said, describing the dilemma of missionaries in Haiti.
Now the missionary community is slowly returning, but Leonel still sees rough days ahead.
"The situation is tense, even though it seems to be better now," Leonel said. "We are expecting the social and economic situation to be worse because [mobs] looted and burned dozens of gas stations, businesses, stores, and radio and TV stations."
Wesley Charles, director of World Vision/Haiti, expected his staff of 348—temporarily reduced to 75—to be back in place by late March.
Sixty miles north in Saint Marc, Youth With a Mission's 26-member staff shrank to 12. Snow looked for most to come back as air travel stabilized.
Snow sees a silver lining in the chaos. He said missionaries who stayed behind, including him, earned respect. He said police and government officials in his area are seeking advice from religious leaders about rebuilding.
"I think that's probably pretty historic," Snow said.
Charles said World Vision provided fuel and medical supplies to Haitians during the crisis and is helping people resume a normal life.
The agency is also promoting long-term solutions. Charles organized a forum at which more than 100 evangelicals discussed how to help transform Haiti.
"One of the challenges we have is to bring hope to the people in the community," Charles said. "People are so disappointed in this flurry of political turmoil. Some are losing hope."
Leonel said Christians must meet needs, not just preach: "[They need] to act, to be close to the people, listen to them and understand their needs, pray for them, and share."
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More on Haiti includes:
Christians See Official Recognition of Voodoo as Ominous | They fear Aristide plans to renew 200-year national "pact with the devil." (Sept. 22, 2003)
Separation Anxiety | Haitian immigrants are less welcome than Cubans, but Florida churches are filling the hospitality gap. (April 24, 2000)
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